Into the Desert

Imagine desert mountains, a valley full of sand dunes and a turquoise ribbon running right down the middle. The water is incredibly clear and sparkles in the sun. Small, red colored, brushy trees line the river banks and yaks and sheep graze on the few bits of grass around. The wind stirs up the sand and carries it in the air. Everything is dry and brown. It is starkly beautiful.

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Yesterday we joined a small group of travelers and journeyed to the Yarlung Valley – a 3 hour trip down some pretty rough roads. We had a great time chatting with the other travelers – a group of former English teachers traveling through Tibet, Nepal & India, and a couple from Hong Kong & Taiwan. We rented a van and a driver to take us around.

This trip gave us an insight into more rural areas of Tibet. I have to say I was a bit surprised by the sand dunes and dryness of everything. Again, every place we went we observed the devotion of the pilgrims, offering money and yak butter inside the temples and fervently expressing their devotion to Buddha. We passed so many small villages and one mid-sized city. I’ve gotten a good impression of typical Tibetan houses. They are one or two story, at least 3 rooms, made of mud brick with small windows high up on the walls. Some have bigger windows covered in heavy cloth to keep the house warm. Most have a courtyard. Bright colors such as blue, red, white and yellow are favored for painting the window sills.

Our first stop was a small temple, part of a complex of 16 tombs of Tibetan kings. (6th to 9th century) While walking the kora circuit and observing the scenery, we met a woman from the local village. She followed us around with her small son strapped to her back. She held out her hand and offered me a small rock. I knew she was going to want money, but I felt touched just the same. The rock was nothing special, just something she had picked up off the ground, but it seemed to me she wanted to offer something in exchange for a bit of money. In Lhasa, you will see many pilgrims sitting on the kora circuit, singing, chanting or just looking for a bit of money. Donations are commonly given to these pilgrims – about 1 jiao or about 1.2 cents. Children and other beggars also ask for money. A common thing to hear is “hello! money!” It is advisable to carry around a stack of jiaos to give to the pilgrims, as offerings or donations at the monasteries, and if you desire, for the beggars. You can even make change out of the donation plates if you want!

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Inside the temple atop the tomb

The next stop was at a small temple perched high on a hill. It is called Yumbu Lhakang and is quite charming in its location and size. To get up the hill, we rode ponies and camels, although the walk is not difficult. The temple was built in the 2nd century BC. There are a few entrepreneurs there selling polaroid shots of tourists and pilgrims in front of the temple. To our surprise, the DH was asked to pose with several of the men (pilgrims, we think). We just assumed they would try to sell us the photos, but no, they wanted to be photographed with the big hairy foreigner! šŸ˜‰

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The DH among the prayer flags behind the temple

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Spinning the prayer wheels

Our final stop, and the most difficult to reach, was Samye Monastery. Samye was the first monastery built in Tibet, in the 8th century. Its design is based on a mandala design, representing the universe. It combines Tibetan, Hindu & Han Chinese design elements.

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Tomorrow morning we will leave Tibet and fly to Shanghai.

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